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Six hardy members braved the elements to explore Spaunton Moor with Mr George Thompson, the gamekeeper of the Spaunton Estate, by kind permission of Mr Winn Darley who was unfortunately ill and unable to attend himself. After meeting in the car park at Hutton and a brief introductory talk by George, we walked up the moor past the shooting butts and part of the old water race for the ironworks to the top of Chimney Bank. George had left his van here so we could ride back to Hutton.
There was not a great deal to see botanically though I did spot some (probably heath) woodrush and sedges but given the conditions (intermittent driving rain, a brisk north-easterly wind and mist) I did not feel like stopping to id them!
It was fascinating to listen to a gamekeepers view of the world, and George was very helpful and informative, telling us about the estate (7000 acres or so) and its management, which has included a broadside attack on the bracken over the past 9 years using a spray that was originally developed for killing dockens. The success of this approach is very clear to see, with large swathes that were once covered in essentially useless fern now supporting grass, heather and bilberry. George also explained the requirements grouse have for new heather, older heather, water and grit all within a relatively small area hence the practice of burning the heather in narrow strips rather than broad swathes to provide new shoots for them to feed on (incidentally also good for the sheep) but still close to the older, taller heather which is used for protection and cover. One of the highlights of the day was to be shown a curlews nest containing four beautiful eggs. I was astonished that these were turquoise not brown and mottled as I would have expected for camouflage.
The major predators are foxes, stoats and crows, all of which are controlled. The upside of this is that the other birds such as curlew, peewit, snipe, and the rarer golden plover and merlin benefit too; for instance there are thought to be 4 pairs of merlin nesting on the estate. 80% of a merlins diet is meadow pipits, and we certainly saw plenty of those, but sadly none of the little falcons themselves.
Birds seen or heard included: rook, wood pigeon, snipe, grouse, curlew, peewit, golden plover, meadow pipit, skylark, willow warbler (in Hutton).
Gill Smith, April 2004
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